Chances are, if you're a weekly reader of Metal Mondays here at Up on the Sun, you don't think of metalheads as thickheaded, grotesque, and crude Neanderthals. You know metal fans can be smart, erudite, and witty. Still, among the pop masses, there's a prevailing attitude that metal listeners are capital D dumb. But guess what, folks? Metalheads are smart and sly, and we're invading your colleges and churches.
The metal sphere is spinning a little bit faster all over the world. Recently, it's even made international news. Damn straight. Metalheads are taking over, minions. We've finally made our way into two of the most difficult environments: education and religion. That's right. There are churches that mix Christian worship with live speed metal, and a 200-level college course that hails Ozzy Osbourne's "You Can't Kill Rock n' Roll" as its fight song.
At West Texas A&M University, linguistics specialist Martin Jacobsen is teaching a new English course called "Introduction to Literature: Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre," using Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal by Ian Christe as its textbook.
Believe it or not, some of metal's most influential bands featured bookworms. Blind Guardian based an entire album on J.R.R. Tolkien'sThe Silmarillion
, while Led Zeppelin gave Gollum and Mordor a shout-out in "Ramble On" onLed Zeppelin II
, as well as "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Battle of Evermore" onLed Zeppelin IV
. It's not just early pioneers, either: Mastodon'sBlood and Thunder
is a concept album based onMoby Dick
-- their "White! Whale! Holy! Grail!" chorus will be stuck in your head all day long.
The class was born out of an English course exercise for students to brush up on diagramming sentences. To illustrate phrase and sentence structure, Jacobsen diagrammed the lyrics of Iron Maiden's "Out of Silent Planet" and played the song along with it. (No coincidence: the song shares a title with the first installment of author/theologian C.S. Lewis' space saga.)
It was a huge hit with the students, and the idea for the course grew organically from there. Jacobsen came to learn that students want to express their interaction with the world, and metal does just that. The class includes lectures, using songs to validate the thesis of the evolution of metal and the literature value of each subgenre of metal.
"I would say that the thematic content of heavy metal lends itself to the same kind of thought processes that reading literature would bring up," said Jacobsen to the Amarillo Globe-News. "It talks about things in ways that you have to unlock your mind to understand, just like reading classical literature or any other kind of literature."
That same article created worldwide buzz, translated into at least nine languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Hungarian. This class gradually has become recognized as a true humanities course. Heavy metal encompasses being human.
When it comes to humanities studies, usually the next topic up is religion. Oh, yes. Heavy metal is taking over there, as well. While incorporating religion in metal is one of the most prominent and oldest themes in the music -- one of my favorites is the balls-out "Creeping Death" by Metallica, which examines the Bible story about the Plague of the First Born from Exodus 12:29.
Christian metal is nothing new, but what about church services actually centered on metal? It's something Mark Broomhead is trying out. Before he was a minister in the Church of England, Broomhead was a member of Seventh Angel, which toured the world and shared a record label (Music for Nations) with Slayer and Metallica.
Now, Broomhead's the vicar of the Order of the Black Sheep, a church in Chesterfield that is part of the Church of England. Services are held in a converted beauty salon -- the walls are painted black, and a ram's skull perches ominously on a bookshelf. Broomhead provides a short sermon complete with film clips and an electro metal soundtrack, while the congregation listens from comfy bean bag chairs and bread and wine are passed around at leisure for Communion.
Broomhead isn't alone: In London, The Glorious Undead, part of the Elim Pentecostal network, meet in the back room of a large Victorian church in Camden. Christian DJs, extreme metal musicians and gothic-oriented characters fill the room when this group comes together. One of the leaders, Andy White, was a member of the hardcore community, he says that while the church started out with a focus on music, it broadened and became all about helping metalheads realize God's vision for them.
College professors scrambling to keep up with metalhead students in the classroom? Church groups dubbed The Glorious Undead? That's right, folks. Metal is everywhere, and it ain't stopping anytime soon.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.